Campylobacter hepaticus, the cause of spotty liver disease in chickens, is present throughout the small intestine and caeca of infected birds

Thi Thu Hao Van, Mian-Chee Gor, Arif Anwar, Peter C. Scott, Robert J. Moore

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Spotty liver disease (SLD) causes significant egg production losses and mortality in chickens and is therefore a disease of concern for some sectors of the poultry industry. Although the first reports of the disease came from the United States in the 1950s it is only recently that the organism that causes the disease was identified, isolated, and characterised as a new bacterial species, Campylobacter hepaticus. The first isolations of C. hepaticus were from the livers and bile of SLD affected birds. Isolates could only be recovered from samples that had a monoculture of C. hepaticus in the tissues, as a selective culturing method has not yet been developed. In non-selective growth conditions the slow growing C. hepaticus is quickly outgrown by many other members of the chicken microbiota. Therefore, it is currently not possible to use a culturing approach to evaluate C. hepaticus carriage in tissues, such as the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), that also carry complex microbial populations. As it is suspected that birds become infected via the faecal-oral route it is important that pathogen carriage in the GIT is investigated. In the present study, a specific and sensitive quantitative real-time PCR assay, based on the glycerol kinase gene of C. hepaticus, was developed. The assay facilitated the detection and quantification of C. hepaticus in tissue samples from clinical cases of SLD. It was shown that in infected birds C. hepaticus colonises the small intestine, increasing in abundance from duodenum to ileum, and is at highest levels within the ceaca. C. hepaticus was also readily detected in cloacal swabs, indicating that thecl-oral infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-230
Number of pages5
JournalVeterinary Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Campylobacter hepaticus
  • Chicken
  • Faecal-oral
  • qPCR
  • Spotty Liver Disease

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